12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Ensuring duty-of-care for employees when they are travelling overseas has been one of the hot topics in corporate travel management in recent years. But how does this apply to the less high-profile arena of travel within the UK, and particularly the use of trains?
Knowing where your travellers are located is becoming increasingly important in the event of something going wrong or there is a major incident. This has led to the launch of new products, such as Concur’s Risk Messaging service and other security platforms.
This is not just a priority for interna¬tional travel. Many companies have also tightened their policies to include UK domestic trips, particularly for rail journeys. However, this is proving a challenge to the travel management industry, given that many business travellers buy their tickets at the station or use consumer-facing apps and websites, instead of a preferred booking channel.
Thetrainline.com, which offers corporate booking services through travel manage¬ment companies (TMCs) and direct to clients, says it has seen more demand from companies to have the ability to track employees using the British rail network.
“We have long known that travel man¬agers look to track employees travelling by air and overseas, and increasingly those travel managers wish to do the same for rail,” says Clare Morrissey, head of account management for Thetrainline.com.
Click Travel has also noticed that clients have taken a stricter tone with travellers for all forms of travel, including domestic rail. Managing director Simon McLean says: “We have clients today who heavily promote to staff that they are not covered by the company’s insurance and repatria¬tion arrangements if they book outside the preferred corporate booking channel.”The emergence of booking tools, such as those offered by the Thetrainline.com and Evolvi Rail Systems, which works through TMCs, have helped to improve compliance and save money for companies on ticket prices. But how good are they at tracking train travellers and is there any way for data from bookings made outside these channels to be picked up and fed into management information (MI) systems?
Capturing data from rail journeys raises several challenges for technology com¬panies, according to Jon Richardson, risk management specialist at Concur. “First, because of the issues with station codes – these are not universally unique and sometimes conflict with each other, or with airport codes,” he says. “Second, because of the nature of how they are booked, with the vast majority of rail tickets purchased minutes before travel.
“Domestic travel is perceived as low risk, therefore there isn’t the same emphasis on it by organisations. However, when faced with a major incident, security manag¬ers will still need to understand who is impacted by the event.”
The practicalities of train travel within the UK also means that while you may know that a certain employee or group has booked a particular rail journey, it is difficult to confirm whether they travelled on that train.
Jon Reeve, trade relations director at Evolvi, says: “Rail does not require the same check-in scrutiny as for, say, air travel – unless it’s for European train travel. But it can provide important affirmation of general travel timelines and intentions.
“For example, our Evolving system can quickly provide, subject to data compli¬ance, information linked to the travel intentions of individuals and groups of people on specific rail routes on particular days. Although it cannot, in real-time, confirm absolutely whether a specific person is travelling on any given train.”Thetrainline.com’s Morrissey agrees that MI on train bookings currently only shows “planned travel” and they have only been able to supply data feeds of travellers who are “likely” to have been affected by an incident rather than “live” information.
“Presently, we are only able to provide planned travel information but with the developments in ticketing technology, this is a changing and an evolving landscape,” she says.Click Travel’s McLean agrees that col¬lecting data from rail bookings can be used to track travellers’ planned trips. “This generally involves monitoring rail journeys so we know the location of the calling points of a journey, so that we can pinpoint when and where travellers are based on their itinerary data,” he says.
But what about the greater use of tickets with barcodes that can be scanned at station barriers – will this ultimately act as a solution for tracking travellers?Thetrainline.com’s Morrissey says barcodes will help: “We have built the systems and process architecture that gives a very granular view of the ticket purchase and activation process, and can relate this to barcode inspection records from onboard scanners and gatelines. It would be possible to give very detailed MI about travel and use patterns, if that were desired. Going forward this will encompass traveller data while on the move, as well as planned journeys.”
The advancement of technology used in rail booking platforms and a wider range of ticketing options should help to increase the use of corporate booking tools, accord¬ing to Amadeus, which has been working on a major rail project to create something akin to a global distribution system for rail across Europe.
“As corporate booking tools, such as Amadeus E-Travel Management, provide access to an increasing range of rail content, it is easier than ever for corpo¬rate travellers to book rail journeys,” says Thomas Drexler, Amadeus’s director of rail and ground travel. “As a result, corporate travel policies are more likely to encourage business travellers to use the train, and to include rail as an option in their policy, even on routes traditionally dominated by other modes.”
However, there are many business travel¬lers who buy tickets at the station before they jump on to the train, or use a consumer channel to buy tickets. Are they effectively untrackable, or can technology help their travel manager to know where they are?
Thetrainline.com says that while all bookings made through its consumer sites are tracked, the system would not know they were a business traveller and would automatically regard them as a leisure cus¬tomer. “During a consumer booking flow, we would not be capturing the necessary MI, executing travel policy or processing the booking to the corporate payment mechanism,” says Morrissey. “For those reasons, the travel manager would much rather we help push that user back into a compliant corporate booking process.”
Click’s McLean says there is no “straightforward” way of capturing book¬ings made outside the preferred channels because of a lack of automated data feeds from these consumer booking platforms. “You are reliant on the people making the booking taking some form of action to get the data into your preferred data source,” he adds. “Some websites have support for services such as Trip It or Worldmate, which can then be used to push data into an expense management system. But it’s a brittle process – if a booker forgets to do whatever they need to do, the data vanishes into the ether.”
A mobile future?
There are currently several ways for busi¬ness travellers to receive their train tickets through corporate booking tools, such as touch-screen kiosks, ticket collection on departure, and self-printed tickets. But it may be that mobile technology eventually provides the best way to manage and track rail travellers.
Evolvi’s Reeve says that the company has been developing a mobile ticketing capability to be deployed in the “not-too-distant future”. But he adds: “What’s holding back the adoption of mobile and any other form of smart technology is the fragmented nature of the rail industry’s infrastructure.” One example he gives is the length of franchise agreements mitigating against investment decisions.
This view about the negative impact of the UK’s rail franchising system on developing new booking technology is shared by others in the rail booking sector, and has led to a continued reli¬ance on paper tickets by train operating companies (TOCs).
Thetrainline.com’s retail director John Davies says: “Mobile tickets have been available for many single TOC advance tickets for some years. But the key to un¬locking this for all ticket types is gaining agreement among all train operators to offer and accept them, just as they do with cardboard tickets. This isn’t straightfor¬ward. Each train operator has its own set of priorities, preferred approaches to ticketing and timescales for implementing change.” However, he adds: “We are now starting to see a greater appetite to collaborate, and I am confident this trend will grow.”
Click’s McLean is less optimistic that train operators will pour money into the development of mobile ticketing due to a “lack of enthusiasm” to invest in this technology. He asks: “If they have not committed to delivering such technology in their franchise agreement, and there is little commercial gain from doing so, why bother?” Instead, he thinks the current mobile, self-print and other barcode-driven specifications will be superseded by smart-card ticketing. “There is significant momentum behind smart cards, particularly in the south-east, where the government has poured cash into the SEFT [South East Flex¬ible Ticketing] initiative,” says McLean. This route, he says, could then lead to a mobile option: “Once smart-card infrastructure is in place, enabling point-to-point tickets to be carried on smart cards – and even smartphones – should be fairly straightforward.”
If that sounds like some sort of utopia for train bookings and the subsequent ability to track business travellers, perhaps we should remember we are talking about the famously unreliable and fragmented UK rail network.
The old nationalised operator British Rail once used the slogan ‘We’re getting there’, and perhaps one day we will get to a situation where there is an integrated, automated and data-rich ticketing system. But we may be waiting awhile.
Case Study: The England and Wales Cricket Board
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is the governing body for the game in the UK, with around 200 support and administrative staff regularly travelling around the country, often using the rail network.
The ECB wanted to change how staff were booking train journeys and so turned for advice to Traveleads, the TMC that arranges overseas tours for the England cricket team.“Prior to adopting the new system, each person would book their own train travel – usually on the same day – using their personal credit cards and then submitting expenses claims,” says an ECB spokesperson.
“We undertook some analysis and found that we were booking many more rail journeys than had been imagined. So we consulted with Traveleads, and they recommended the Evolvi online system as a way of both reducing cost and gaining access to detailed MI.”
Traveleads worked with the ECB to install the Evolvi self-booking platform and within one year of implementation, the average ticket prices paid by the ECB had dropped by 20 per cent and use of the self-booking tool was “close to 100 per cent”.“It makes life easier for them – they no longer need to pay up-front for their own travel and they can either collect tickets from the office kiosk or via ticket-on-departure,” said the ECB spokesperson.“At a corporate level, we are now able to attribute rail costs more easily to departmental budgets, and to collect and analyse management and financial data. The overall effect is to make our travel budget go further.”
Sign-up to receive BBT’s twice-weekly newsletter